NEW YORK—Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Friday that the key to achieving genuine democracy in the former military-ruled country is for longtime adversaries to work together and ignore her international fame.
During her first visit to the United Nations in four decades, the Nobel Peace Laureate was asked whether she was concerned about outshining Burmese President Thein Sein, who has put the country, also known as Burma, on the path to reform.
“I don’t think we should think about this in terms of personalities,” she said. “I think we should think about it as a common goal. If we all want to achieve genuine democracy for Burma, we have to learn to work together and not think about our impact as personalities, either in our country or in the world at large.”
Advance schedules indicate that Suu Kyi will miss Thein Sein’s address at next week’s annual gathering of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.
Suu Kyi met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday in her first visit to UN headquarters since she worked there 40 years ago. She will return to the UN on Wednesday for an event on the sidelines of the General Assembly—the secretary-general’s launch of an initiative for reaching the UN goal of ensuring that every child has a primary school education by 2015.
Earlier this week, the 67-year-old Suu Kyi met privately with President Barack Obama and accepted the highest honor from the US Congress, the Congressional Gold Medal. It was awarded in 2008 while she was under a 15-year house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule. She was released in late 2010 and has since worked with members of the former ruling junta that detained her to push ahead with political reform.
A key aide to Thein Sein, minister of the president’s office Aung Min, also met Ban on Friday and warmly praised Suu Kyi to reporters.
“All citizens of Myanmar are very happy that their fellow citizen won such a prestigious award,” he said. “I can assure you that the government is also very proud of this.”
When asked whether Burma’s government is concerned that Suu Kyi might outshine the president, he said, “We don’t worry for that. The president alone cannot undertake all democratic reforms. I don’t think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi can accomplish everything either. Both the president and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will have to work together.
Aung Min pointed to the end of apartheid in South Africa, saying Nelson Mandela couldn’t achieve it alone and worked with then-South African President F.W. de Klerk.
Aung Min said he could assure the world “that the reform process in Myanmar will not be reversed.”